Thursday, June 5, 2003

The American Library Association (ALA) is under fire for inviting Cuban government librarians to its upcoming annual convention, while ignoring colleagues from independent libraries in Cuba who were recently sentenced to prison terms of up to 27 years.

“After years of silence, double talk and coverups by the ALA, the current vicious attack gives the ALA no excuse for failing to take action,” said Robert Kent, founder of Friends of Cuban Libraries and a librarian at the New York Public Library.

Until a recent crackdown by the government of Fidel Castro, a network of independent libraries offered a variety of titles, such as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” that implicitly criticized Cuba’s one-party communist government.

The ALA — which represents public, college and other libraries in the United States and has 64,000 members — is run by an elected board of 175 councilors.

The latest criticism of the group was triggered by a decision to invite Cuban government librarians to speak at its June 19-25 convention in Toronto.

Betty Turlock, a professor at Rutgers University, a former ALA president and current international-relations chairman responsible for inviting the Cubans to speak, said the program was planned 18 months ago, before the crackdown in Cuba.

“I have never known the ALA not to take the side of intellectual freedom,” Miss Turlock said.

In March, Cuba arrested 75 opposition journalists, librarians and dissidents.

Many were sentenced to more than 25 years in jail. At least 10 were directors of independent libraries, who lent books from their homes.

Among the books considered counterrevolutionary were “Animal Farm,” biographies of Martin Luther King, collections of Pope John Paul II homilies, and books on entrepreneurship and free-market economics.

In contrast to the ALA, most American and European journalist organizations produced resolutions and statements supporting their jailed colleagues.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International condemned Cuba’s crackdown on dissent and declared all 75 prisoners as “prisoners of conscience.”

And yesterday the European Union announced that it had decided unanimously to re-evaluate its relations with Cuba.

Mr. Kent, and others, charged that the ALA has been hijacked by several of its board members, whom they say have close ties to Cuba’s government.

One of the board members, Mark Rosenzweig, is chief librarian of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, the archive of the Communist Party USA.

He is also a leading figure in the ALA’s Social Responsibility Round Table, one of the most vocal factions in the ALA supporting the Castro regime.

“If justice is harsh in Cuba, it is because Cuban independence is threatened by the machinations of the hostile U.S. administration, trying to create the conditions for a puppet government to take over,” Mr. Rosenzweig wrote in a recent e-mail.

Mr. Rosenzweig made his comment in response to an e-mail campaign seeking support for the imprisoned Cuban librarians.

He went on to call the imprisoned librarians “pawns,” saying they “do not remotely qualify as librarians.”

Mr. Rosenzweig did not return calls seeking comment.

Another ALA board member, Ann Sparanese, is a member of the Venceremos Brigade, a radical Marxist group that dates to the 1960s.

“They are not librarians,” she said of the imprisoned Cubans in a brief telephone interview yesterday.

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